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Exporting small PDF files from Illustrator

Check these tips on exporting small PDF files from Illustrator. You can significantly reduce the file size using compression and other methods below and make file upload and download as fast as possible.

Exporting for print

When exporting small PDF files from Illustrator, there are many ways to reduce the file size. Lowering the resolution of the images is one of them. When you are exporting for print, you should keep the images inside the file at 300ppi. That makes the available options a bit limited compared to exporting for digital form only. Let’s have a look at the example below.

Sample flyer used for quality analysis.
Here is the flyer for a client that I started with.

When I exported this file to PDF, it resulted in total of 40.2 MB. Basically, I just checked ‘Optimize for Fast Web View’ option and used bicubic downsampling to 300ppi. You can see the settings I’ve used below:

Original PDF export settings.
These PDF export settings resulted in file size of 40.2 MB

Time to resize!

Now, by simply unchecking the ‘Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities’ and ‘Create Acrobat Layers from Top-Level Layers’, I was able to reduce the PDF file size to 15.5 MB. However, bear in mind that in case of unchecking ‘Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities’ option, you would need to save the source file in Illustrator separately. That will enable you to edit it later. Or in other words, when opening this PDF file in Illustrator with ‘Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities’ option unchecked, you won’t be able to edit it. Take a look at the settings used below:

PDF export settings without editing capability and acrobat layers options.
These PDF export settings resulted in file size of 15.5 MB

Finally, by making some further adjustments in Adobe PDF dialog and reducing the quality of the images while keeping the 300ppi, the file size was reduced drastically to 962 KB! Having started with 40.2 MB, not a bad result. How I did it is by using the Compression section of the dialog and Automatic (JPEG) compression with image quality changed set to Medium. You can play around these settings, but the ones I used can be found below:

PDF export settings with Medium image compression.
These PDF export settings resulted in file size of 962 KB

Here is the final comparison of the file without image compression (the first two cases) and with the compression set to medium (the third case):

Original PDF file with no compression zoomed in.
Original PDF file with no compression
PDF file with Medium JPG compression zoomed in.
PDF file with JPG compression set to Medium image quality

As you can see, there is some loss of quality in the picture. But in cases when file size is the priority and you can get away with slight compression, this is a way to go.

Exporting for digital use

When you are preparing a file for digital use, such as viewing on computer and mobile devices, reducing the file size is key. This enables fast upload and download and easy email sharing. Compared to print, resizing options are more flexible here, mainly because you don’t have to stick to 300ppi for images. Simply because print is not primary purpose of these files. I’ll use the same flyer like in the first example to demonstrate the file size reduction. In all cases, I unchecked the ‘Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities’ and ‘Create Acrobat Layers from Top-Level Layers’ and checked ‘Optimize for fast Web View’ option.

Image resolution of 96dpi with compression set to Medium

Resulted in PDF file size of 440 KB.

PDF export settings with Medium image compression and 96dpi.

Image resolution of 96dpi with compression set to Low

Resulted in PDF file size of 361 KB.

PDF export settings with Low image compression and 96dpi.

Image resolution of 72dpi with compression set to High

Resulted in PDF file size of 415 KB.

PDF export settings with High image compression and 72dpi.

To compare the results:

PDF file with Medium JPG compression and 96dpi zoomed in.
Resolution of 96dpi with compression set to Medium
PDF file with Low JPG compression and 96dpi zoomed in.
Resolution of 96dpi with compression set to Low
PDF file with High JPG compression and 72dpi zoomed in.
Resolution of 72dpi with compression set to High

To conclude, the following settings resulted in smallest filesize: resolution of 96dpi and compression set to Low image quality. The total filesize of 361 KB.

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